Taste of the Dunedin sound

Having grown up to the sounds of The Beatles and Rolling Stones (I preferred The Beatles), by the time I left school my taste in music was changing and I remember going to places like the Hammersmith Odeon, Earls Court and Wembley Arena to see the likes of Led Zeppelin, Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd.

When punk music came along in the early eighties I never really got into it (I was probably already too old). I preferred the musicianship and musicality of those stadium rock giants, and – and I’m probably not going to win any brownie points by admitting this – in some cases I still do!

So it’s hardly surprising that when I first arrived in New Zealand in 1995 I didn’t know anything about Flying Nun Records or “the Dunedin sound”. “We started in 1981, like many independent labels do, by just wanting to make music we like available for people we like,” the company explains on its website. “We started off with a simple, do-it-yourself post-punk attitude, which still remains.”

Since I’ve lived here I’ve heard some of Flying Nun’s music, but the company’s significance was only really emphasised to me last summer, when Dunedin brewer Richard Emerson launched a series of monthly, limited edition tap beers in honour of the company. First up, in October 2010, was Flying Nun Amber Wit and this was followed in sequence by Rolling Moon Wheat, Tally Ho! Golden Ale and two versions of Bird Dog Pale Ale. Sadly these “Brewers Reserve” beers were only available in a dozen or so outlets across the country.

But now there’s some good news – in the past couple of months Emerson’s has been ramping up production of its monthly Brewers Reserve beers and sending them further afield. At the end of last month, the first of this summer’s “Dunedin Sound” beers left the brewery. A re-worked or, as the brewery put it, “remastered” version of last summer’s Tally Ho! Golden Ale, it’s the Dunedin brewery’s take on England’s crisp, golden and gently hopped summer ales. According to Emerson’s, “A local aficionado of fine craft beer, David Kilgour of The Clean, helped us on the day with dry hopping this ale, so we reckon this ale is specially blessed.”

This month Flying Nun is celebrating its 30th birthday with a series of “Nunvember” gigs around the country. To mark the occasion, the company asked Auckland’s Epic Brewing Company to brew a special commemorative beer. Rapt to receive the invitation, Epic’s owner, Luke Nicholas, then had to consider what style of beer to brew: “First, we decided it had to be light in colour as we figure the majority of the people that are Flying Nun fans probably have never drunk craft beer, and would likely be scared of anything darker than the lagers they probably drink. But at the same time we still needed to give the beer the signature Epic character of lots of hops.”

There’s no doubt Epic has achieved just that; while the grist is comparatively simple – a marriage of luscious British Maris Otter and German Munich malt – Luke and fellow Epic brewer Kelly Ryan have gone to town on the hops. The beer features American Liberty, Cascade and Falconers Flight (a proprietary blend of Simcoe, Sorachi Ace and Citra) and a new Australian hop called Galaxy. It was dry hopped twice for added aroma and flavour.

Flying Nun Records 30-Year Ale (5.5 per cent) pours a bright golden hue beneath a deep white head. In the glass the aroma is typically Epic: full on, with sweet malt providing a solid base for a cocktail of resiny hop aromas. Bitter lemon, assorted tropical stonefruit, grassy notes and a hint of mineral chalkiness – it’s like sticking your head inside a hop sack. In the mouth it’s all up-front action; light bodied and very crisp, there’s an initial biscuity malt sweetness but this is soon overwhelmed by the resins from the dry hopping which fill the mouth and linger on into a dry, but not especially bitter, finish. To me the beer seems bold, brash and eager to make a statement. It seems to reflect the uncompromising attitudes in the music Flying Nun promotes.

Just one batch of Flying Nun Records 30-Year Ale has been made and it will be available in selected retailers and at the “Nunvember” shows. Packaged in Epic’s tall 500ml bottles, the label is a clever depiction of an old LP record. If you’re keen to try some you’d better be quick; it’s expected to sell out by the end of the month. Tally Ho!




  1. Flying Nun fans have probably never drunk craft beer. Huh? This sounds like a comment from someone who doesn’t really know Flying Nun fans.

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